When you have a case of dyspepsia—otherwise known as indigestion, or a good ol’ stomachache—you’d expect to feel pain in, well, your stomach. But what if you’re feeling pain in other parts of your body, too, like your ribcage or chest? Can indigestion cause chest pain?

Turns out, chest pain from a stomachache is more common than you’d expect. “It can certainly cause chest pain,” says Neena Mohan, MD, a gastroenterologist and assistant professor of clinical medicine at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University in Philadelphia.

While this type of pain is usually harmless and goes away once your stomach settles, it can also mimic the signs of a heart attack—sometimes making it difficult to tell the difference between the two. This is why it can be important to know the signs of heart attack, and when to seek help.

Here, learn more about the connection between dyspepsia and chest discomfort, plus when to see a doctor about lingering pain.

Can indigestion cause chest pain?

According to Dr. Mohan, indigestion can definitely cause pain in your chest. You may feel indigestion alongside other GI issues like heartburn or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), i.e., chronic reflux that hits more than twice per week. Both can cause a burning, uncomfortable feeling in your chest.

“GERD can cause a burning or squeezing type of chest pain,” says Dr. Mohan. That’s especially true “when it’s severe enough to cause esophagitis, or inflammation of the esophageal lining,” she adds.

Indigestion usually comes with other symptoms, too, including the following, per the Mayo Clinic:

  • Early fullness, like you can’t keep eating even though you’ve only taken a few bites
  • Feeling uncomfortably full
  • Discomfort or pain in your upper abdomen, between the bottom of your breast bone and your belly button
  • Pressure under your rib cage
  • Bloating in your upper abdomen
  • Nausea (which is a common acid reflux symptom, too)

Other causes of noncardiac chest pain

Heartburn is one of the top causes of noncardiac chest pain—or chest pain that stems from something unrelated to your heart, according to the American College of Gastroenterology.

Other GI issues can give you noncardiac chest pain, too. These can include the following, per the American Academy of Family Physicians:

  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • GI infection or stomach bug
  • Gastroparesis (a digestive disorder where the stomach is unable to pass food through your intestines)
  • Peptic ulcers
  • Gastritis (inflammation of the stomach lining)
  • Stomach cancer (in rare cases)

Almost anyone can get noncardiac chest pain from a GI issue. But you’re likely more prone if you have overweight or obesity, smoke or use tobacco, or frequently take NSAID pain relievers, per the Cleveland Clinic.

Anxiety and stress can also play a role in developing chest pain with indigestion. “Anxiety has been shown to increase GERD-related symptoms and contribute to chest pain,” says Dr. Mohan. “Specifically, panic attacks and depression are the most common psychiatric diseases associated with chest pain,” she adds.

“Anxiety has been shown to increase GERD-related symptoms and contribute to chest pain.” —Neena Mohan, MD, gastroenterologist

How to recognize cardiac chest pain

It’s not always easy to tell the difference between chest pain from indigestion and chest pain caused by a heart issue, including a possible heart attack. So if you’re unsure or have concerns, play it safe and call the doctor (or in severe cases, call 911), says Dr. Mohan.

Crushing chest pain from a heart attack (think: it feels like an elephant’s sitting on your chest) will often radiate toward your arm, shoulder, or jaw, and it can happen alongside heartburn, nausea, or vomiting, per the Mayo Clinic. You might also feel lightheaded, short of breath, sweaty, anxious, or feel like your heart is racing.

Chest pain that stems from heartburn or indigestion, on the other hand, is more likely to hit shortly after eating, especially if you’re lying down, says Dr. Mohan. This is different from heart attack chest pain which can happen at any time, in any position. Heartburn might also give you a sour taste in your mouth (from regurgitated food), per the American Heart Association.

Another important difference: “If chest discomfort repeatedly improves with antacids, it may be due to GERD,” says Dr. Mohan. But again, if you’re not sure what you’re dealing with, or the pain is getting increasingly worse, you should get emergency medical care, just to be safe.

How to treat chest pain from indigestion

Managing chest pain caused by indigestion or heartburn mostly comes down to lifestyle changes. Dr. Mohan recommends:

  • Avoiding or limiting foods and drinks that trigger your symptoms. Common culprits include fatty or fried foods, spicy foods, tomatoes, citrus, alcohol, and caffeine
  • Avoiding eating within 2 to 3 hours of lying down. Lying down makes it easier for reflux to splash up into your esophagus, where it can cause chest pain
  • Managing your weight, if needed (your doctor can let you know whether you’re in a healthy range based on factors like your age and body size)
  • Quitting smoking, if you smoke

If lifestyle changes alone haven’t helped, you can try taking an over-the-counter (OTC) antacid—especially if you’re having severe heartburn symptoms and need relief ASAP. In more acute cases, your doctor can offer a prescription-strength antacid.

It’s best to start with OTC options like TUMS or Rolaids, which neutralize stomach acid and can often help you feel better in minutes. If that’s not cutting it, acid blockers like an H2 blocker (Pepcid AC, Tagamet, or Zantac) or a proton pump inhibitor (Prilosec, Nexium, or Prevacid), will likely get the job done, per the Cleveland Clinic.

When to see a doctor about chest pain

If you have new, unusual, or severe chest pain that lasts longer than a few minutes, it’s best to get emergency medical care. Because it’s tough to tell the difference between indigestion chest pain and heart-related chest pain (especially if you’ve never had it before), it’s important to rule out life-threatening causes like a heart attack.

You should also let your doctor know if your indigestion chest pain comes with other serious GI symptoms like the following, per Dr. Mohan:

  • Vomiting (especially vomiting blood)
  • Blood in your stool
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Unintentional weight loss

While these aren’t signs of a heart attack, they could indicate an underlying GI disorder (like inflammatory bowel disease, or IBD) that needs to be treated.

And of course, if indigestion is disrupting your day-to-day life, it’s helpful to let the doctor know, so they can offer tips and solutions to improve your symptoms.


How long can chest indigestion last?

Indigestion symptoms might only last a few minutes. But they should ease up within three to five hours of eating max, because that’s how long it takes for your stomach to clear out the food from your last meal, notes the Cleveland Clinic. If your indigestion lasts longer than that, and happens on a consistent basis, let your doctor know. They can offer advice, prescribe medication, or check for underlying health conditions.

Can stomach pain be a sign of a heart attack?

According to the Mayo Clinic, certain GI symptoms can be warning signs of a heart attack. This can include abdominal pain, nausea, and heartburn. You’ll likely have other symptoms alongside stomach pain if you’re having a heart attack, though. If you think you’re having a heart attack, dial 911 and get to the nearest emergency room as soon as possible.

How can you relieve GERD chest pain fast?

One of the best ways to relieve GERD chest pain fast is by taking an antacid like TUMS or Alka Seltzer. You can also try taking sips of water and wearing loose-fitting clothes around your waist to ease any discomfort. Another option is standing up and moving around to keep acids from traveling up your esophagus, doing a stomach massage for heartburn. And if you’re in bed for the night, try finding your ideal sleeping position for heartburn—which could be elevating your head with a few pillows, or lying on your left side, per the Cleveland Clinic.


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